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The taming of the stroad?

December 1, 2022, 10:00 AM

About three weeks after the accident that claimed my HR-V, I read on The MoCo Show about another accident that occurred on the same stretch of road at Russell Avenue, a block away from where my accident happened, that looked very similar to mine.  Additionally, I remember an accident that occurred at the same intersection as mine in May 2020 that Elyse and I encountered while we were out and called in to 911.  Taken together, it tells me that Montgomery Village Avenue (MD 124) between Interstate 270 and Midcounty Highway is a poorly designed road that probably needs to be rethought and redesigned in order to increase safety along that stretch.

For those not familiar, Montgomery Village Avenue, along with quite a number of other roads in Montgomery County, is what is often referred to as a “stroad“.  Wikipedia defines a stroad as “a type of thoroughfare that is a mix between a street and a road”, and the word itself is a combination of the words “street” and “road”.  Basically, it’s a road that wants to function as a local city street and as a major highway all at once, and often fails at both roles.  These roads are typically designed for relatively high speeds, but their functioning as a city street with pedestrians and so many private accesses means that the posted speed limits are typically well below the road’s design speed.  Do you remember that Journal entry that I wrote in 2013 about people who were getting run over at bus stops in Montgomery County?  All of the streets in question were stroads.  Georgia Avenue in particular is the textbook definition of a stroad, being a six-lane divided highway with private access, including single-family residential, directly off of the main road from Silver Spring to all the way to Olney.  The speed limit for much of that road is 35 mph from Silver Spring to Leisure World, with a posted speed of 25 mph through Wheaton.  I speak from experience from ten years’ time living just off of Georgia Avenue that it is very difficult to maintain that speed limit when traffic is moving well, and I often found myself exceeding the speed limit without realizing it and then having to slow down once I do notice.  That’s because the road is designed for much higher speeds than traffic is actually allowed to go, and people tend to drive in a way that befits the road design, especially during off hours.  They say that if you can speed on a road and not realize it, and not feel that your higher-than-allowed speed is actually dangerous, then the speed limit is too low for the design of the road.  In other words, the usual go-to argument of, “LoWeR aLl ThE sPeEd LiMiTs!” is a major non-starter for me, if because the speed limit was already too low for the design of the road, and people weren’t following it anyway, what’s the point of lowering it further?  They weren’t following it when it was 35, so what makes you think that they’re going to follow it at 25?  I also find the way that people are so quick to blame drivers 100% for accidents to be problematic, because the design of the road can also be a legitimate contributing factor to accidents, such as roads that are designed for much higher speeds than anyone probably ought to drive.  It’s kind of like how the “no u-turn” sign is often a symptom of poor road design, because with a better-designed road, you wouldn’t need signage that disallows obvious and mostly reasonable moves to get around the poor road design.

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A trip to New Jersey with Elyse and Woomy…

August 14, 2022, 7:57 PM

On Thursday, July 28, Elyse and I took a trip up to New Jersey.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Scrub Daddy headquarters in Pennsauken, where the company has a retail store.  Then we built a day around this in order to justify the trip.  We were no stranger to Scrub Daddy by any means, as we had previously stopped by their facility on the last day of our Atlantic City trip back in January, just to see where it was.  I remember how excited Elyse was during that visit to Scrub Daddy’s headquarters, and on that occasion, we just photographed the outside of the building, since the retail store wasn’t ready yet.  I could only imagine how excited Elyse would be going in and actually seeing the place.

We left the house around 10:00 AM, and got as far as Delaware House by noon.  This was to be our potty stop on the way up.  Elyse noticed an Edwards Integrity on the outside of the facility, and got some photos of it:

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A day up in Pennsylvania…

July 22, 2022, 8:30 AM

On July 15, Elyse and I went up to Pennsylvania to photograph a very specific target: the western portal of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel, which is one of four tunnels on the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I’ve been wanting to photograph a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel for a while, but distance plus operational challenges caused this to be back-burnered for a long time.

My first thought was to photograph the tunnels the old fashioned way: on the turnpike itself, from a vehicle.  I did this on my shoot from 16 years ago where I photographed Breezewood and then did the turnpike to Carlisle.  I do not recommend that anyone do this, at least not the way that I did, because I was driving with one hand and photographing with the other.  At the relatively young age of 24, though, I thought that I was good enough to handle it, but looking back, I’m fortunate that nothing went wrong.  If I had someone else with me doing the driving, this would have been a better option, but I didn’t have one.  Of course, even then, you really only have one shot at it.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a toll road, and a relatively expensive one at that, plus the exits are spaced fairly far apart.  Thus, in the case of Kittatinny Mountain (and the adjacent tunnel through Blue Mountain), having to go back to take another crack at it would require about 25 miles of extra driving, considering that the exits on either side are spaced about 12 miles apart, plus the distance to actually turn around at both ends.  Plus extra tolls and the fuel to do that round trip.  Pulling over and shooting some photos from the roadside is also not a viable option, because as I understand it, the PTC does not look favorably on that.  General rule of thumb is that outside of the service plazas, the PTC does not want you outside of your vehicle on their property at any time except if you absolutely have to, and will come check on you if you are outside somewhere that you’re not supposed to be.  So that led me to do some research on Google Maps in order see if there were off-turnpike places to photograph any of the tunnels.  Allegheny Mountain is too far west, being more than halfway to Pittsburgh, plus there’s no off-turnpike access.  Tuscarora also had no access.  No access at Blue Mountain, either.  But at Kittatinny Mountain, Route 641 goes over the turnpike just west of the tunnel portals.  Therefore, we have a winner.

Finding that, I then turned to Elyse and basically said, “Help me justify this outing by building a day,” and sent along a map of my target and the intended route there.  That’s how so many of our adventures happen: there’s something that one of us wants to do, but we can’t justify the time commitment or expense of a trip for it it all by itself.  So we add more stuff and make it into a full-on adventure that typically gets us home around midnight.  Elyse wanted to see a siren and some other stuff in Shippensburg and Chambersburg, so there was the rest of our adventure.

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No more cutesy safety messages?

January 7, 2021, 5:18 PM

On January 4, 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a ruling providing “an official interpretation of the provisions of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) related to changeable message sign messaging”.  In a nutshell, this ruling bans all of those cutesy safety messages that highway departments love putting on those overhead message signs, such as this one:

"Wear shamrocks, not handcuffs. Drive sober."

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Categories: Roads

Please don’t stop for me when I’m waiting to cross the street…

August 25, 2018, 1:51 PM

On Thursday, while I was waiting for a bus, I witnessed a near accident involving a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Layhill Road near Glenfield Local Park in the Glenmont area of Montgomery County.  In other words, this location, seen from approximately my vantage point:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View

This view is facing approximately south, putting the northbound lanes on the left and the southbound lanes on the right.  There is a median in the middle of the road.  Southbound traffic has a turnout for traffic making left turns into the park police station (entrance visible at left).  There are wide bike lanes on either side of the road.  There is also a Metro facility entrance at this location (out of frame to the right).  This intersection is not a big one by any means.  There are no signals.  Ride On has a bus stop on either side of the road at this location.

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Categories: Roads, Silver Spring

A walk down an abandoned road…

May 24, 2018, 5:40 AM

On May 17, 2018, I took a solo trip up to Centralia, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Centralia is something of a modern ghost town, having gradually been abandoned due to a coal mine fire that’s been burning uncontrolled beneath the town since 1962, likely caused by deliberate burning of trash in the town’s landfill, which was on top of a former strip mine.  As of 2013, the town had only seven residents remaining, and when those remaining residents pass on or otherwise leave the town, their properties will be seized via eminent domain.

I had done some research about the site, but was a bit iffy on whether it was going to be good or not.  I was concerned about its being a bust, but it was still intriguing enough to make the trip.  And as it turned out, it was pretty cool.  The biggest “attraction” at Centralia is an abandoned section of road known as the “Graffiti Highway”.  That road came about when Pennsylvania Route 61 began having subsidence and visibility issues due to the coal mine fire.  The state built a new alignment for the route on more stable ground in 1993, and the old alignment was abandoned.  Since then, many people have come by and left graffiti tags on the road, which gave the road its nickname.  Besides the road, there are also several cemeteries in Centralia, as well as one remaining active church, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

When I went up, I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out.  Based on my research, as well as a little Google sightseeing, there were the roads of the former town surrounded by empty land and a few houses, and the possibility of seeing steam from the mine fire rising from the ground.  The Graffiti Highway was most intriguing.  I’d heard mixed reports about how accessible the Graffiti Highway was, though.  When it was still under state ownership, my understanding was that police tended to chase people away on a routine basis.  I didn’t want to travel that far just to get chased out.  But last fall, the state vacated their easement, i.e. they gave up the right of way, determining that it will never again be used for a road, and ownership of the land reverted back to adjacent property owners.  So I believe that the old road is now on privately owned land, and as such, the heavy enforcement went away now that the state no longer owns the land.  In any case, no one bothered me on my visit.

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I’m not even going to try to recall how many times I made Elyse cross the street…

October 31, 2017, 2:30 PM

Here’s some “new old stock” for you.  Back in March 2016, I had the idea of writing about a fatal pedestrian accident that happened in December 2015 at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road (MD 586) and the Matthew Henson Trail in Rockville.  It was an area that I was very familiar with, as one of the routes that I did on the bus went through this area.  I did the field work for that planned Journal entry, photographing the area in question, as well as a few other pedestrian control devices in Montgomery County, in order to have a discussion similar to the one I did in March 2013 about an intersection on Georgia Avenue.  Unfortunately, however, life got in the way, as I got a promotion at work, and the several-months-long training program that came with that promotion took precedence over the planned Journal entry.  The post eventually got shelved, and now it’s a moot point, as the intersection was initially upgraded with yellow warning signals directly over the crossing (vs. 500 feet ahead of it as before), and then after a second fatal accident in the same location, the crossing was upgraded again with signals that actually require traffic to stop vs. only warning drivers of the presence of pedestrians.

I was always a bit disappointed that an entire afternoon’s work never got used.  Like the Breezewood photo shoot in 2006, evidence of the shoot showed up fairly soon after the work was done – in this case, a single photo feature – but the intended final product never got made.  In hindsight, I’m not too worried about it, because what I would have advocated for in the intended Journal entry came to pass, though I wish that it hadn’t happened as a result of a second fatal accident.

The shoot itself was pretty fun.  I brought Elyse with me, and we made a good team.  The way we did it was that I set the camera up on my tripod and pointed it at whatever I needed, started filming, and then signaled to Elyse to activate the signal.  She then crossed the street, in order to give some legitimacy to the signal activation.  After all, I knew that I was stopping traffic on some fairly busy roads for a photo shoot.  I had Elyse cross the street so that I didn’t look like a complete dick, stopping traffic for no reason.  Someone needed to cross the street, so that it didn’t look like I was stopping traffic just to film the signals.  I imagine that Elyse probably did about a mile going back and forth across several intersections in Montgomery County and DC.  After all, every single take (and I did multiple takes) required activating a signal, and that meant sending Elyse across the street

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I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday…

August 25, 2017, 12:30 PM

Wednesday, August 23 had been planned as a road trip day for quite some time.  Elyse turned 21 two days prior, and this was my birthday present to her, going on a trip up to Asbury Park, New Jersey to visit the Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade on the boardwalk.  We previously visited this facility in May.  Then the plan was to go up to Menlo Park Mall in Edison to go to Rainforest Cafe, where we were having dinner, and I was buying Elyse a drink.  The day that we ended up having was a lot of fun, but definitely more expansive than I had originally planned.

We left the house around 11:00, with Asbury Park as our destination.  We made a quick stop at Maryland House, and then a White Castle in Howell Township:

White Castle in Howell Township

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A “lost” photo set of sorts…

November 6, 2016, 10:10 AM

In doing the writing for an upcoming photo set for Life and Times about a trip that Elyse and I recently made to Pittsburgh [update: photo set published in January 2017], I quickly realized that much of the discussion about the trip up builds on a photo set that I shot in May 2006 with the intention of publishing in Photography, but that I ultimately never completed.

In this case, the subject of the “lost” photo set was Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, when one travels to Pittsburgh from the DC area, one of the places that you go through is Breezewood, a settlement best known for a quarter-mile stretch of US 30 that carries Interstate 70 traffic to the Pennsylvania Turnpike – a stretch of road that is loaded with gas stations and motels and restaurants.  I first traveled through Breezewood in 2003 during the LPCM trip to Pittsburgh, and it piqued my interest – even more so when I later learned that there was an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, including two tunnels.  I discussed a potential trip to Breezewood for a photo shoot in 2005, and then made a trip from Stuarts Draft to Breezewood – a three-hour drive each way – on May 2, 2006.  About the only bit of evidence of the trip on here was five photo features showing Breezewood, a short Journal entry with no photos, plus a few things here and there on Wikipedia and Panoramio, as was my practice at the time.  The intended Photography set, with the working title “Town of Motels”, was never made.  Kind of a shame that, for a trip that was that far away and entirely dedicated to photography, so little was actually published from it.

I’m pretty sure that I never published the set because I didn’t feel like the photos were up to par, even for the (lower) standards that I operated under at the time, and thus couldn’t find the inspiration to complete it.  Most of the photos had a yellow cast over them, and I clearly didn’t take enough time in composing my shots.  In hindsight, while I had fun doing the shoot, the idea was something of a loser.  After all, it was, for the most part, just a clustering of chain businesses along a unique stretch of highway.  The road configuration, created due to regulations in place at the time that precluded the use of federal funds to build direct connections to toll facilities, was what was unique, but that wasn’t the focus of my photography.  I focused mostly on the chain businesses themselves, which weren’t particularly unique.  The chain businesses looked a lot like “Anytown USA”, i.e. they were much the same as you would find anywhere.

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Had never traveled a business Interstate before…

July 24, 2016, 8:55 PM

…and now I have.  Elyse and I made an impromptu road trip to York, Pennsylvania on Thursday, July 14.  We got together in Ellicott City, but didn’t know quite what we wanted to do, and so we ended up doing that.

However, our first stop was a completely unplanned one, in Catonsville.  There, the McDonald’s in 40 West Plaza recently closed, and was in the process of being vacated.  At the time that we came by, they had started roofing over the McDonald’s-style mansard, and removed the signage, and were packing stuff up inside.

Exterior, with new roof going on, covering the double mansard that the facility had when it was still in operation. Also note the McDonald's labelscar on the side of the building. Guessing that they paint the exterior in order to hide these labelscar markings.

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Finally, a road photo that I didn’t have to research…

July 11, 2015, 10:12 PM

Whenever I find a photo online showing something amusing on the road, I always like to find out the location.  I’ve become rather skilled at looking at background details in photos to sleuth out locations after posting and geotagging countless photos on Panoramio, as well as researching filming locations for Project TXL (a planned overhaul of the Today’s Special site).  So imagine my delight to see this funny road photo, showing Thomas the Tank Engine being transported on the back of a truck:

Original caption: "My buddy saw Thomas the Tank Engine getting kidnapped earlier this morning."
Photo: Imgur

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Road trip to New Jersey…

October 30, 2013, 9:45 PM

Last Thursday, October 24, was a fun day.  I took a one-day road trip to Monmouth County, New Jersey.  The inspiration was my needing a change of scenery for a day, and seeing this as an opportunity to do a few things I’d wanted to do for a while now.

As with any trip, they say that getting there is half the fun, but I was quickly struck by how much it cost to get to New Jersey.  Let’s just say that officials in northeastern states, New Jersey in particular, never met a road or a bridge that they couldn’t slap a toll on.  And tolls have gone up.  The Baltimore tunnels in Maryland (Fort McHenry and Harbor) are now four bucks each way (up from $2), and the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge is now eight bucks(!) for its northbound-only toll (up from $5).  Otherwise, the Intercounty Connector near me was $2.05 from Layhill Road to I-95 (it’s a variable toll depending on time of day – your results may vary), Delaware was still four dollars, the New Jersey Turnpike was $3.50 to Exit 7A, and then the Garden State Parkway wanted fifty cents from me for going one exit.  Kind of surprisingly, New Jersey didn’t want anything for my ride on I-195.  Altogether, it cost $22.05 in tolls alone to get to my first destination.  And that’s just getting there.  I had to run that gauntlet of tolls coming back, too.

The first stop was a very personal one for me.  I went to Temple Beth-El Cemetery in Neptune, where my grandparents on my father’s side, Ruth and Seymour (“Pop”) Schumin, are buried.  I also didn’t realize before I arrived that Aunt Ruth and Uncle Seymour were buried in the same location.  Uncle Seymour died in April 1981, a little less than two months before I was born.  Pop and Grandma died within a month and a half of each other in the spring of 1988, when I was in first grade.  Aunt Ruth died in November 2003, right around Thanksgiving.  Therefore, I never got to know Uncle Seymour, it’s been 25 years since Pop and Grandma died, and it’s been almost ten years since Aunt Ruth died.

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Categories: Asbury Park, Driving, Family, Roads

Two near-identical photo features…

September 2, 2013, 11:54 PM

What is Afton Mountain, anyway?

March 21, 2013, 5:58 PM

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this article by Dr. Christopher M. Bailey, a geology professor at The College of William & Mary.  The article discusses the name of a place that many people in the part of Virginia that I grew up with are most likely quite familiar with: Afton Mountain.

The article is titled, “Mind the Gap! Where is Afton Mountain?” and discusses the geology of the area, specifically Rockfish Gap, and a few quirks of the local culture.  First, for those not familiar, Rockfish Gap is a wind gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which separate the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont region in Virginia.  Because it is the lowest gap for quite some ways traveling both north and south, the area became an important way to travel east and west.  Today, Interstate 64 and US 250 carry travelers through Rockfish Gap.

Technically speaking, this is Rockfish Gap, seen here in a 2003 Schumin Web file photo:

Rockfish Gap, seen from the junction of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, on a bridge over Interstate 64.

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Categories: Afton Mountain, Nature, Roads

Two trade-in bids for the Sable, and some roadgeekery in between!

March 10, 2012, 5:36 PM

First of all, you knew I was also a bit of a roadgeek. I admit – I am. I’m a nerd about transportation in so many different ways. But interestingly enough, I’m not that into cars. But in any case…

So I am coming ever closer to replacing the Sable with a Kia Soul. Today I went to two Kia dealers that my guy at the credit union had previously spoken with and had gotten bids from for a Soul. My goal was to get bids from these dealers for a trade-in on the Sable, and of course they would need to actually see and feel the Sable to do that.

The first place I went to was JBA Kia in Ellicott City. This was surprisingly closer than I expected. Baltimore seems so far off to me, and Ellicott City is a suburb of Baltimore. I felt like I was there in no time. Arriving there, I explained what was going on, how I had been working with my guy at the credit union, etc. So they knew what to do, but they didn’t exactly give me a warm and fuzzy feeling in the process. I had to explain multiple times that I was not interested in discussing new cars with them (since I would do that exclusively through my guy at the credit union), and that I was there only for the bid on the Sable. You could tell that they were none too happy that I wouldn’t give them a chance to swindle me. If it tells you about the vibe that I got from this dealership, I posted this about it to my Facebook:

Did I mention that car salesmen are rotten slimeballs? Can't wait to get out of this dealership.

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Categories: New car, Roads